The full text of the Secretary General’s address to the annual International Labour Conference in Geneve, June 2006:
I would like to congratulate the Director General for his elaborate and enthusiastic report on the abolition of child labour. It is very pleasing and encouraging to read his remarks that the end of global child labour is within reach, However, the challenge is huge and there is still much work to be done and more measures to be taken to make global poverty history.
Child labour in various countries of the world is the product of poverty and hunger. Recent statistics issued by UNICEF reveals that 25% of the global children have fallen below the level of starvation. This fact is a far cry from what is being said that the problem of global poverty is on the decrease. As a matter of fact there are situations where young children are still being driven into illicit activities to earn a miserable daily living.
The belief that millions of children around the world are being exploited and forced into labour, while not receiving education is of concern to many people. For example, it is still very shocking for us to read that in India alone there are at least 17.5 million working children, mostly in the footwear industry which is also one of India’s major export oriented industry.
In combating global child labour, measures must be taken to guarantee the enforcement of obligatory education where all school-aged children are required to attend school the whole time. I am convinced, as the report of the Director General states, that the concrete measures that are being taken to ensure the respect of fundamental rights will serve also a tool to combat the force of poverty that pulls children out of schools
Mr. President I will now turn to briefly relate the situation in my country. Malta is a very tiny island with a small open economy and where poverty is supposed to form part of the history books.
However, the occurrence of poverty seems to be raising its head once again. Thus, we have a situation where child labour is present on a very small scale although we have yet to find out if it is a hidden problem.
This in view of the fact that statistics in this regard are scare and not available. This in itself presents a major obstacle to our efforts to get to know how far this problem goes on our Island. However, experience shows that in effect child labour exists mainly in small family businesses in the informal sector of the economy.
Though difficult and hard to grasp the real facts, the GWU is doing all that is possible to understand the extent of this problem on our shores, firstly because it is our belief that children’s place until the legal age of 16 is at school and secondly to avoid the exploitation of children in the labour market. Moreover, we are deeply concerned that child labour in Malta could increase due to the social and economic burdens that the workers’ families are constantly made to shoulder through further taxation and other government induced social costs.
We very sincerely hope to be incorrect in our thinking that child labour is a signal that poverty is again on the increase in Malta.
As the Director General himself quite rightly suggests in the Executive Summary of his report, political commitment through the adoption of clear policies in the area of poverty reduction, basic education and human rights are central to combating child labour. I also auger that governments of all countries where poverty and child labour are rampant will adhere to the fundamentals of human rights and make child labour history.